Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for their enthusiastic response as I take this opportunity to share the views of the residents of Winnipeg Centre on a subject that we find very timely, topical and of great import, and that is the review of Bill C-33, the railway safety act.
In the context of speaking to the bill I want to share a little bit about Winnipeg and how the railway has not only affected modern-day Winnipeg but actually almost shaped the way that my city grew and developed into the great metropolis that we know it to be today.
In 1882, when the CPR first laid down the tracks in Winnipeg, it laid them down quite logically and reasonably right from the junction of the two great rivers, the Assiniboine River and Red River, directly west to the Rocky Mountains and the west coast. This was the transcontinental railway.
As such, the marshalling yards were put well outside the developed area of Winnipeg as it stood in 1882, but frankly it was not long. In fact, by the turn of the century, Winnipeg had grown out that far and these great marshalling yards, 40 tracks wide in many places with full shops for upholstery, maintenance and the wheel house, created a great divide for the city of Winnipeg.
It created a tale of two cities because the railway barons lived along Wellington Crescent south of those tracks and the north end of Winnipeg became, as we know it, the low-income working class part of the city. That great divide exists to this day. So it shaped the growth of our city very much.
The reason I want to mention these things in the context of Bill C-33, the railway safety act, is that it has been a huge safety issue, not just a great physical barrier and a great industrial blight in the heart of our city. It has created a safety issue to where there have been explosions, collisions and accidents. There have been vehicle-train mishaps, chemical spills, and 130 years of environmental degradation as the trains just naturally spill diesel and drop materials onto that soil.
It is not a good thing to have a huge marshalling yard in the middle of a major urban centre. Those houses beside the tracks, north and south, are the least desirable neighbourhoods, the least desirable housing. Creating what began as reasonable housing for workers alongside the tracks, it gradually became, over a period of time, some of the roughest and meanest streets in the city of Winnipeg as they were not exactly a person's first choice to move to in terms of raising a family.
I raise this in the context again of Bill C-33 because I believe when it comes to committee, the government will hear from a number of sources that we want another element added to the bill. We want reconsideration of what was called the Railway Relocation and Crossing Act, which has laid dormant, essentially, for almost 15 to 18 years.
The Railway Relocation and Crossing Act was, in fact, a rail safety measure where a municipality, upon application to the federal government, could appeal to have the railways lift up their tracks, whether it was a level crossing or a marshalling yard, and tear up the tracks, move them outside the city to a place where they would not pose a health or contamination hazard, and 50% of that cost would be borne by the federal government.
One would think with all we have given the railways over the years, that they would heed the wishes and will of the residents of the municipality where they reside and we could oblige them to move those tracks somewhere that would be more beneficial to us. They were not all that co-operative. I do not know how this developed, but at a period of time, the Railway Relocation and Crossing Act was the avenue of recourse for municipalities which wanted to get rid of the rails.
It exists today. It is on the books. It exists as legislation. It is inactive and dormant and we believe the government of the day, in the same context of dealing with the Railway Safety Act, should be reviewing the Railway Relocation and Crossing Act .
I could make the argument that it is directly relevant to the safety of citizens to get these tracks out of the yards, but it also helps us to rationalize our rail transportation network in the country. If we are to truly avail ourselves of the new reality that rail is the best way to move freight, the old marshalling yards in the inner city of Winnipeg, in my riding of Winnipeg Centre, in Outremont in Montreal and in other cities around the country are obsolete, outdated and unable to avail themselves of the new intermodal container shipping practices that typify a modern shipping transportation system.
In fact, we believe the city of Winnipeg needs to develop what we call a great inland port, in other words, a fully-modern, 21st century intermodal container terminal that is not on an ocean but is in fact at the heart of the continent. It is the heart of a great X from the Asia Pacific trade route, from the St. Lawrence Seaway through the Great Lakes, over the northern Ontario trade route straight up to our only deep sea Arctic port at Churchill and then straight down the Red River corridor to trade into the populated areas of the United States.
We are uniquely located. The city of Winnipeg's best advantage is being at the heart of the continent. Yet it is handicapped and stymied by the outdated, obsolete, polluted marshalling yards that are not only an eyesore and a liability, but are holding us back from developing into the inland port computerized terminal we need.
I have travelled to modern-day container shipping terminals in Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and Fuzhou, China. I went to those four terminals and studied the way a modern, computerized shipping terminal worked. It is nothing like the inner city of Winnipeg. It does not even bear a remote resemblance to what we need to develop and we cannot develop that in its existing grounds.
These container terminals work with computerized gantries that can go about half a mile down a line of terminals that are stacked 12 high and find the exact shipping container that it is looking for 80 rows down, 6 rows up and 15 rows over. It can go on this gantry system, pick it up, bring it out and ship it.
That is the kind of speed and just-in-time shipping we need if we are to have a proper distribution network in our country. We also need to consider that it has to be intermodal from air traffic to train traffic to truck traffic, all in the same centre if we are to put more freight on the rails where it belongs and take it off the highways.
In the consideration of Bill C-33, the safer railways act, we are negligent in our duties if we do not consider the Railway Relocation and Crossing Act in the same context at the same time. We do not know when we will be able to raise this issue in Parliament again as part of the legislative framework associated with rail safety. If I had more time, I would also explain that the government needs to revisit the rail freight review for western Canadian grain farmers.